Equanimity is one of yoga’s eight traditional guiding ‘limbs.’ The limbs are attributed to Patanjali, an Indian sage who lived at least 1600 years ago. However, to my way of thinking, where they came from or why they persisted doesn’t matter so much as the fact that they have. Despite the many and varied ways yoga has been practiced in different times and places, these guiding principles persisted. The one on my mind, equanimity, means “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation [Google dictionary].”
How many times have you been to a yoga class, and had the teacher prompt you to “acknowledge x_____ emotion (sadness, anger, frustration, even happiness, or joy) as it enters your awareness, and then let it go,” or something to that effect? Chances are your teacher is basing their class to some extent on the principle of equanimity. I, however, don’t think that’s the point of that particular limb. We are human, after all. We feel.
My sister broke up with her boyfriend recently. From her perspective it was a confusing, ungraceful disintegration of a formerly harmonious relationship. Even though she was the one who put it out of its misery, it hurt her. It hurt her so much that it temporarily undid her poise, and her confidence. It stole her appetite and sleep. It ruined even the simplest of things, like sunshine on a Sunday afternoon, because of the memories. Seeing the change in her was devastating. More importantly, it made me mad.
In that scenario, it was not appropriate to “acknowledge my emotion, and then let it go.” Oh no. This is my twin sister. Suffering. I hurt too, because I love her. This makes me mad. In fact, I’m angry as f*** because she’s too kind and patient (a special ed. teacher to the core) to see all the ways that he hurt her, too; to stop second-guessing herself, and to draw herself back up through the sheer force of righteous indignation.
I’m angry and it shows. It shows her that she is loved. It shows her that there are other reactions to this scenario than just doormat-sadness. If I were to “let [my anger] go,” I don’t think I’d have been able to support her half as effectively from this place of love, and power, and strength.
The point is that it’s okay to get angry. Sometimes it’s anger that protects us, that tells us something isn’t right about the way we (or a loved one) are being treated. Sometimes it’s what moves us forward when we would otherwise just cry. Sometimes it’s an indicator of turmoil within, when we snap (or blow up irrationally) at the person who happens to tread on our insecurities. Anger, as part of the full gamut of emotion, is not only a useful tool for insight, but part of what makes us human. It’s anger unaddressed and left to fester that makes us bitter. Equanimity takes care of that; rather than emotionlessness it’s just the opposite: understanding the roots of our emotions completely.
May you experience utter rage; may you possess the equanimity to understand it completely; may you do something about it if necessary; may you move on completely.